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Remembering a dawn that changed fate of Zanzibar part 2

Translated by: Ali bin Rashid Al Abri

During five long and detailed meetings with Sheikh Sulaiman bin Said Al Kharusi, who was the Deputy Commissioner of Police of Zanzibar at that time that Zanzibar was attacked by outsiders, it was clear that he still had strong, vivid and detailed recollections of the whole sinister event. His unequivocal and lucid expressions and his impartial and distinct narration of the events will put the reader firmly in the picture and in the heart of the event. However, the purpose of this publication, the narration had to be summarised. Letting out a long sigh, Kharusi said: “the tragedy that befell us would not have missed us, and what has missed us would not have befallen us, it is Allah’s will. Despite this calamity that was followed by division and diaspora, Allah has now bestowed upon us his blessings and bounties that we enjoy today in our ancestors homeland Oman. Fate is inescapable and patience for life’s vicissitudes is obligatory. Allah has rewarded us for our patience and that is the divine justice.”

Al Kharusi started this discussion in a spirit of total acceptance of fate and destiny, and then moved on to discuss what he termed “the post-events analysis.” He pointed out that the rebels’ strength alone would not have been enough to topple the legitimate government, had it not been for acts of treason by some British officials, on one hand, and the miscalculations of the newly formed national government that lacked political maturity and security awareness, on the other. These two vital factors led to the state being defenceless which enabled the demagogical mobs to tighten their grip on the state within only a few hours.

Al Kharusi further clarifies that there were plenty of rumours abounding and much was heard on the grapevine. Just days prior to the Invasion, there were strong indications and intelligence information of impending riots in Zanzibar to be staged by the opposition, Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP). At the level of the police force, this intelligence information was conveyed to officials before the independence of 10.12.1963, and even before the last elections in which the Coalition of Nationalist Party (ZNP) and the Zanzibar and Pemba’s People’s party (ZPPP) won, in July 1963. Al Kharusi confirms that there is no doubt that the police officials were well aware that such riots might mount to an attempt to overthrow the government if this coalition party was to rule the country. Based on such a prospect, the ex- Commissioner of Police Mr. R.H.V. Biles - whom Kharusi described as impartial in his decisions, but had to leave Zanzibar soon after the independence - asked him to meet with officials from the Nationalist Party to ask them whether they had solicited or been promised any military assistance from countries such as Egypt in case of riots breaking out following independence. He also asked him to make it clear to them that if the answer was no, then the new government might face critical state of security unrest which could develop into a security threat to the regime and to its very existence. Kharusi, therefore, met with Ministers from the Internal Self Government at Beit Al Ajaib (the House of Wonders). He expressed the Police Force’s deep security concerns vis-à-vis the state of “simmering” that had pervaded Zanzibar during those trying times. The response that he received from one of the ministers was: “Do you think the government is a cup of tea that can be turned over easily?” This sarcastic remark has been often ascribed to Sheikh Ali Muhsin Al Barwani, Minister of External Affairs and Trade, however, Al Kharusi confirms that it wasn’t so in this particular occasion.

Some security enquiries later confirmed that there was a plan to overthrowing the legitimate government on the actual day of the independence celebrations. John Okello, the so-addressed as the leader of the ‘revolution’ - in his book, claimed that he opted to not spoil the festive mood, particularly in view of the high profile of the state guests from friendly and allied countries. History, however, reveals that Okello feared that some countries might intervene if the execution of the plot took place on that day as the ceremonies was headed by high profile personalities. The ceremony was also attended by prominent personalities from 70 countries, including the then President of the Egyptian People’s Council, Anwar Al Sadat, as per Al Ahram newspaper, December 10th, 1963.

After Mr. Biles left the country, the Government appointed Jack Sullivan as the new commissioner of police. Kharusi blames Sullivan, among many other reasons, for the fall of independent Zanzibar as we shall see in the coming episode.

To be continued.....

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